Back in the 1960s, various racial minority groups, including African Americans, Chicanos, and Native Americans, featured constituencies that espoused a nationalist politics. While one will find these politics expressed in different ways with different concrete goals, most generally the goal of a Chicano nationalism, Black nationalism, or a Native American nationalism was to achieve the rights to self-determination. Self-determination, most broadly, means having democratic control over the chief institutions in a people’s life, so they have the right to participate in deciding how schools are run, how the economy is organized and labor remunerated and honored, how land is used and resources are distributed, and so forth.
It made sense for these groups to want their own territory so they could participate democratically in setting up cultural institutions and a political economy that served their lives. After all, the experience of these peoples had been one of land dispossession, labor exploitation, cultural annihilation, political disenfranchisement, denial of civil and human rights, and overall a general devaluing of their lives. Their lives did not matter or matter as much in the white dominant U.S. culture and political economy.
These peoples weren’t trying to impose their ways of life or their value systems on anybody else. They were simply looking for a space where they could practice their own cultural values, share democratically in the resources of their world they helped produce, and have some democratic say in governing themselves and making decisions about their lives and world. A people needs a territory for that, and they needed to be free of the hate, violence, and oppression others constantly inflicted on them.
Those constituencies of these racial minority groups who espoused nationalist politics tended to understand the racial oppression they endured and suffered as an experience of colonization, and they defined themselves as colonized nations within the U.S. nation. They conceived liberation, then, as a project of decolonization.
I start here with this brief summary of the nationalist politics of oppressed racial groups in the U.S. to provide a context and a foil for talking about white Christian nationalism and for thinking about how we in America who support and yearn for a humane hate-free multi-racial democracy, rooted in a promotion of human and civil rights for all, might think about resisting or responding to the authoritarian white male supremacist and heterosexist threat Christian nationalism represents.
Let’s start with the key fact of Christian nationalism which absolutely distinguishes it from the kinds of nationalist politics I discussed above.
Christian nationalists aren’t trying to escape conditions of oppression so they can freely live out their values in a society and culture that is not hostile to them. Rather, they are trying to impose their value system on others and make it the law of land, making other ways of life, cultural ways of being, illegal and punishable. For example, it’s not enough for themselves to be able to decide they don’t want an abortion; they have to outlaw abortion for everyone and deprive all women control over their bodies and reproductive health. It’s not enough for them to be able to practice their distorted brand of the Christian faith freely as they choose; they have to insist on its supremacy within U.S. culture, have it infuse the laws that apply to all, and devalue and even seek to ban the religious practices of others. It’s not enough for them to eschew same-sex love and marriage or define their gender identities in binary ways, they have to deny others the legal right to love and marry as they choose and to define their identities in non-binary ways.
This context, and this distinction, is important for understanding the kind of modest proposal I’m articulating here, which, admittedly, is more of a thought-proposal to entertain as a way of thinking through this issue, than something I’m seriously committed to.
But hear this idea out. Often on the right wing we hear talk of secession from the Union (here and here, for example). Indeed, the Confederacy has really never accepted the outcome of the Civil War, and the omnipresence of the Confederate flag makes it clear many in the U.S. don’t want to remain united.
So, maybe we who want a multi-racial democracy characterized by human and civil rights and egalitarianism should get on board with secession.
Maybe we should let the haters go and let them live by and with themselves.
For one, those of us who are tired of hate and believe people should control their bodies and lives, take part in democratic decision-making, worship and love and marry as they please, preserve our environment and more—well, we could go about the business of creating a non-racist, non-sexist, egalitarian culture and democracy.
And here’s what happen to the haters in their own nation. As long as one voluntarily chose one’s nation, one’s territory, these haters would have nobody to hate but themselves within their own borders.
Put this in perspective. Notice that Christian nationalism is very outward and other-focused. Its raison d-etre, its whole impetus, is about controlling and imposing its beliefs on others with the end, it would seem, of simply feeling powerful and in control.
If they occupied a territory without LGBTQ folk and people of color, the real impetus of the impact of their ideology on their own lives might become clear. They’d have to look at themselves and could not blame others for their misfortunes. When their own women are dying because of ectopic pregnancies or other reproductive health issues, they will be able to only look to themselves. When they experience economic exploitation and poverty, they won’t be able to blame people of color, immigrants, gay people, whomever. They’ll have to look to the white elites who have always exploited them and sustained economic inequality.
Frankly, it would be a relief not to deal with the terror and threat the Christian nationalists pose to democracy, freedom, and human life day after day.
I agree with Abraham Lincoln that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” And I’m just not sure these divisions can be healed, or why we keep trying.
If these hateful Christian nationalists want to secede and form their own fascist state to tyrannize over themselves, why don’t we let them—and let them face themselves with no “others” to project their neuroses and misfortunes upon?
It sounds kind of appealing.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.